Paris was a revelation that surpassed anything that Illya Nickovetch Kuryakin could have imagined within the drab confines of his former life. Nothing would ever be the same, he was certain of it now; and in spite of being watched by those whose lives consisted of spying on loyal Soviet citizens, a sense of freedom permeated this new experience like nothing before.
With very little effort his accent had become so close to the native French people he daily encountered that he was often mistaken for a Parisian by birth. It gave him a considerable amount of satisfaction to be viewed as such, rather than as the Russian immigrant, something not altogether admirable.
Although the war was a decade gone, there were still those among the city's populace that had supported the Vichy government and maintained latent sympathies for the fascist ideology of Nazi Germany. Many people would have let it pass without notice, but young Kuryakin had been sent to the Sorbonne still Soviet, although he was now attached to the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement.
In 1957, Illya Kuryakin was transferred to Paris in order to complete a Master's degree at the famed Sorbonne. Newly graduated from UNCLE's Survival School, his Soviet undergraduate work completed alongside a stint in the Russian Navy, the young man was all of 24 years old as he began a life that would eventually take him to the farthest reaches of the globe; more importantly, to New York City, America.
Paris would prove to be a life altering experience for the young man. UNCLE had agreed to pay in part for the Russian recruit's education as a token of good will. He was a Soviet in good standing, and might be recalled within the first ten years of his tenure with the international law enforcement agency, should events demand it. Alexander Waverly, the reigning head of the Command, saw great potential in this young man, and the future of UNCLE would depend on this type of international cooperation. Subsidizing the education of someone like Kuryakin was a nod to the world envisioned by Waverly, one of cooperation and respect.
Illya Kuryakin lived in a little rented room above a boulangerie. Waking to the aromas of roasting coffee beans and fresh bread often caused him to wonder at this luck coming to someone such as he. This life was nearly perfect, and as he headed to his morning classes, it was a daily ritual to ask that it remain so for as long as possible. He addressed a Deity with whom he had only a passing familiarity thanks to his grandmother's secretive instructions. Being not entirely in agreement with many of the dictates pronounced by the Kremlin, Illya considered that his babushka must be as wise as the old men who ran the Soviet Union, and bowed to her expertise in spiritual matters. It would cost him nothing to consider her tutelage, and he might fare better because of it.
The early months in Paris had been spent perfecting his French, studying his mountain of science books and deflecting repeated attempts by women of all ages to seduce him into affairs of the heart. He succeeded in the latter, not so much due to his distaste for such affairs, but rather the lack of time he could devote to pleasures of the flesh. It was becoming increasingly more difficult, and he had begun to rethink his vows of abstinence. On this morning, he briefly reflected on the most recent advances from a well to do woman who was, to measure the years kindly, old enough to be his mother.
"M. Kuryakin, where are you?"
Illya deflected a few glares from the other students as he raised his eyebrows and sought out the attention of the man at the head of the class. Everything was in French, and his mastery of the language and dialects had begun to make things a little easier for the transplanted Russian.
"Here, M. Henri."
The professor held up a sheet of paper, the study submitted by the Russian was being returned to him now. Illya gasped inwardly at the possibility it was not satisfactory. His new superiors had levied a mandate that he must excel.
The other students in this classroom watched as the little scene played out. Some liked the blond with the bright blue eyes. A few others found him arrogant and anti-social. It never occurred to them that he was simply shy, and unwilling to venture into already established cliques.
"M. Kuryakin, this paper is… exceptional. You have captured the essence of the hypothesis and made your case without a doubt. I believe you would do well to offer tutoring to some of your classmates, and they would do well to request it of you."
M. Henri glared at a few faces in particular. That would not gain Illya any friends, and he groaned inwardly at the repercussions that only he would have to endure.
He could ill afford to disagree with his professor, even if it did mean a less than satisfying social life. One young woman watched the exchange, noting the displeasure on a few faces as the blond endured the praise. She thought he was very handsome, if a little thin. He seemed to fit the Parisian aesthetic, and she imagined his hair in the new existentialist style, with bangs rather than pushed back from the high forehead.
He was fine featured and almost waif-like in appearance, and were he taller she could probably get him work in one of the design houses. Her mother's connections would come in handy for such things, and Illya Kuryakin seemed to need someone to look after him.
Class was dismissed and the students filed out of the room, pairing up into groups as plans were discussed for later that night or even the next few hours. One or two of them waived to the Russian, and he thought a few others conveyed something more rude than friendly, if the gesturing they made with their hands was an indication. Illya had much to learn still, and as he entered into a conversation with a young man from England, he was not aware of the pair of eyes that followed him through the corridors.
Little did the Russian know that someone was interested in his well being. Neither could he have guessed how her interest now would figure into his life in years to come.